On December 4, 2017, the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit issued its much-anticipated precedential opinion in Marathon Petroleum Corp. et al., v. Secretary of Finance et al., No. 16-4011. The opinion affirms the Third Circuit’s existing view (described in its 2012 New Jersey Retailers Association decision) that US Supreme Court precedent permits a private cause of action to enforce the federal priority rules, overruling the federal district court’s conclusion (in this case and Temple-Inland) that the priority rules only apply to disputes between states. Continue Reading Litigation Alert | Third Circuit Reaffirms Scope of Federal Priority Rules

With multiple state lawsuits, competing federal legislation, many state bills, and several rulings and regulations, the physical presence rule remains an important and contentious issue.  In this article for the TEI magazine, Mark Yopp takes a practical approach for practitioners to deal with the ever-evolving landscape.

Read the full article.

Reprinted with permission. Originally published in TEI Magazine, ©2017.

Most states are well off to the races with their 2017 legislative sessions and several states have gift card legislation pending that would impact unclaimed property holders.

Oregon

On January 9, 2017, a bill (SB 113) was introduced in the Senate that would create a new unclaimed property reporting obligation for gift cards, which would apply to gift cards issued or sold after the effective date of the bill.

SB 113 would accomplish this by amending the state consumer protection law to provide that a cardholder may only redeem a gift card from “[t]he person that a gift card identifies as providing goods or services” and such person “shall transfer to the Department of State Lands, in accordance with [the Uniform Disposition of Unclaimed Property Act], any remaining balance from a gift card that a cardholder has not used within five years after the date of the last transaction that used the gift card for a purchase.” Keeping consistent with the changes above, the bill would also amend the definition of “gift card” to strike the current reference to “issuer” and replace it with the “person identified in the record as providing goods or services in exchange for displaying or surrendering the record.” Finally, the bill provides that “[a] transfer under this paragraph renders the promise to provide goods or services of which the gift card is evidence void and the cardholder may not redeem the remaining balance on the gift card for cash, goods or services after the date of the transfer.”

The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on General Government and Accountability, where the sponsor (Senator Chuck Riley) sits as chair.

Practice Note

The prospect of gift cards becoming reportable prospectively in Oregon is troubling in itself, but the bill would go a step further and redefine who is the issuer in the gift card context by specifying that the retailer or other entity identified on the record as providing goods or services is the issuer and has the remittance obligation—not a third-party issuer (which many retailers currently use and most have historically understood to have the reporting obligation for unredeemed gift cards in states without an exemption). The bill leaves room for the Department of State Lands to establish an expedited process for transferring gift card balances by regulation, but it would still be the onus of the retailer to provide the unredeemed balances and would diminish the benefit of having a third-party gift card processor under Oregon law.

New Hampshire

On January 5, 2017, a bill (HB 473) was introduced in the House that would revise the definition of “gift certificate” by (1) removing the existing requirement that the promise be written; and (2) increasing the face value based exemption from $100 to $250. The bill also would increase the face value of a gift certificate that may have an expiration date under the state consumer protection law to $250. As introduced, these changes would take effect January 1, 2018.

HB 473 was referred to the House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee on January 17, 2017, and a public hearing was held January 25, 2017. The bill was not advanced out of committee, and several subcommittee work sessions have been scheduled since then.

Practice Note

Issuers of gift certificates with a face value of $250 or less (but over $100) should keep a close eye on HB 473, as it would exempt these gift certificates from a presumption of abandonment. While this is good for gift certificate issuers, removing the requirement that a gift certificate be “written” would likely expand the scope of “gift certificates” subject to the unclaimed property law to include electronic and virtual gift cards and gift certificates. The subcommittee work session may provide an opportunity for the drafters to clarify the intent of the bill. Stay tuned.

On May 20, 2016, the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts published proposed amendments to 34 Tex. Admin. Code 3.584 – relating to the reduced rate available under the Texas Franchise Tax for retailers and wholesalers – in the Texas Register. As previously reported, these proposed revisions have the potential to double the tax rate for a substantial number of businesses – namely those in the information technology and pharmaceutical industries.

The proposed changes to Rule 3.584 were first circulated as draft amendments to interested parties in April.  Although some interested parties opposed the draft, the official published version has remained unchanged after that initial informal review.  To summarize, entities “primarily engaged in retail or wholesale trade” are subject to a Texas Franchise Tax rate that is half the rate imposed on other businesses – 0.375 percent versus 0.75 percent for reports originally due on or after January 1, 2016.  To qualify for this reduced rate, a business must (among other statutory requirements) earn less than 50 percent of its retail or wholesale trade revenues from the sale of products it or an affiliate entity “produces.”  Tex. Tax Code § 171.002(c).  In a substantial change from the current version of Rule 3.584, the proposed amendments – which have a retroactive effective date of January 1, 2008 – provide that a retailer is considered to produce the products it sells if the business “manufactures, develops, or creates tangible personal property that is incorporated into, installed in, or becomes a component part of the product that it sells.”  See proposed Rule 3.584(b)(2)(C)(ii). The proposed Rule offers two examples of businesses that will now be considered “producers” rather than retailers: (1) a business that produces a computer program, such as an application or operating system, that is installed in a device that is manufactured by a third party; and (2) a business that produces the active ingredient in a drug that is manufactured by an unrelated party.  As discussed in prior coverage, these proposed changes create a regulation that is neither consistent with the language of the statute it purports to interpret nor supported by the common sense understanding of what it means to be a “producer” versus a “retailer.”

Although the proposed changes to Rule 3.584 have the potential to double the tax rate for those retailers and wholesalers who also engage in “development” activities and a retroactivity period of over eight years, the Chief Revenue Estimator, Tom Currah, has determined that “for the first five-year period the rule will be in effect, there will be no significant revenue impact on the state or units of local government” – and there is “no significant anticipated economic cost to individuals who are required to comply with the proposed rule.”  Mr. Currah also has determined that for each year of the first five years the rule is in effect, the anticipated public benefit will be “conforming the rule to current legislation and policy.”  No statement of fiscal implications for small businesses is required.

The publication of the proposed revisions in the Texas Register has started the clock for the submission of public comments.  Comments must be received no later than 30 days from the date of publication; i.e., by Monday, June 20, 2016.  Comments may be submitted to Teresa G. Bostick, Director, Tax Policy Division, P.O. Box 13528, Austin, Texas 78711-3528.